News: 1st Marine Division honors Montford Point Marines
Story by Lance Cpl. Joseph Scanlan
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Decades after joining the Marine Corps, the first African-American Marines received Congressional Gold Medals from the 1st Marine Division’s commanding general, Aug. 14.
“I was very pleased for being honored for our service, no matter what kind of service it was,” said Meredith Beal, an 89-year-old award recipient from Barker, Texas. “I was honored to be recognized by the commandant and congressmen for our service.”
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the Montford Point Marines at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center June 27, 2012. The following day, Gen. James Amos presented individual bronze replica medals to nearly 400 Montford Point Marines who came to Washington D.C.
Nearly 100 Montford Point Marines were unable to travel to Washington D.C. To ensure that the remaining Marines in the California area were recognized, 1st Marine Division held a ceremony to honor their service.
The medal is the highest civilian award in the United States. It is rewarded to an individual who performs an outstanding deed or act of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States.
In 1942, President Theodore Roosevelt established a presidential directive allowing African Americans to join the Marine Corps. Between the years of 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 recruits received recruit training at Montford Point, a facility in Camp Lejeune, N.C. that was established for African-Americans.
“I wanted to become a Marine when I first saw one in New York City,” said Robert L. Moore, an 83-year-old award recipient from New York, N.Y. “I had never seen a black Marine before and there were two of them.”
Moore was 15-years-old when he saw the two African-American Marines in their dress uniforms. He thought they looked sharp and wanted to join the Marine Corps as soon as he could and went to recruit training when he was 17-years-old.
“I was a Boy Scout before I went to recruit training,” said George Mitchell, an award recipient. “As I went through recruit training, there wasn’t anything the drill instructors asked of me that I wasn’t able to do. I could drill, I knew the manual of arms, and I could fire my weapon.”
The initial intent of the presidential directive was to discharge the African-American Marines after World War II, keeping the Marine Corps an all-white organization. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order #9981, ending segregation in the armed forces and allowing African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps.
“It is impossible to think of the United States today without thinking of the various movements and events that were critical parts of our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey, commanding general of 1st Marine Division. “The awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal is one of those events - It raises the awareness of the Montford Point Marines.”
Montford Point Marines adapted to the Marine Corps and became very successful in their careers.
“There was no better career to have in order to raise healthy, happy children,” said Yalanda Mitchell-Sheets, daughter of George Mitchell. “We all thought we were rich. Little did my brothers and I know that we were not rich with money, but with what money could not buy. We had a father who loved us, we never had to worry about where we were going to live, and we never went hungry.”